Ten Minutes with Mike Hess
A North American Bridge Champion
Photo by Stan Godlewski
Mike Hess and his family emigrated from Serbia to Linz, Austria, and later, relocated to Chicago. A BA at Loyola was soon followed by a Masters at Columbia, and an MBA at Wharton. Recently, Hess and his bridge team won the coveted 2017 Flight “A” Grand National Teams North American Bridge Championship in Toronto. He has been living in Wilton with his wife, Janice, and their three children since 2004.
How did you end up in Wilton?
I received an offer to become director of global research and communication insights for OMD, one of the world’s largest media ad agencies based in New York.
What is your bridge background?
I actively avoided bridge until a few dorm friends asked me to learn so they’d have a fourth player for weekend games. I was immediately hooked. Bridge is a game that is as intellectually challenging as chess and includes a social element. I reached the rank of Life Master in 1981.
Your in-laws were divided on your playing bridge. Why?
My mother-in-law was happy because she knew I could play with her in tournaments and help her to earn the gold points necessary to become a Life Master. Janice’s dad was more skeptical: he was worried that I would become a bridge bum.
How often do you play?
Between 2004 and 2014 I primarily participated in online bridge because I didn’t have time to participate in tournament competition. However, in 2015 when I began semi-retirement, Gary Miyashiro of Redding and I were able to reignite our dormant partnership. We play once per week at the Newtown Bridge Club, and once a month in local tournaments.
What skills does a good bridge player need? The ability to see patterns, to learn a new language—the 38-word vocabulary of bridge bidding—to recall what cards have been played, and to visualize the way to successfully “make” all the tricks your partnership has contracted for during the bidding auction.
How did you train for the championship?
Our initial four-person team played pre-arranged online games against experts from around the country, and Gary and I spent long hours discussing every nuance of our complex bidding system.
Tell us about the competition in Toronto.
We represented New England, district 25 of the American Contract Bridge League, and beat 22 other teams from across all of the U.S. and Canada. I liken the structure to the NCAA basketball tournament, March Madness. First we competed to reduce the field to a “perfect” Sweet 16, then qualified for the Elite Eight, and reached the Final Four on Saturday. We won the Championship round on the fifth day.
Favorite Wilton haunts?
The YMCA, the Wilton Library, and more recently, the Historical Society, where I’ve been a board member since 2015. I also really like Orem’s for an occasional meal out.
Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I competed in three dance contests in a row in the 1980s. I only received an award for my first one—for “enthusiasm.”